A fellow blogger wrote a piece about the trending topic, “check on your strong friend.” I read it and found myself tapping away on my keyboard for 15+ minutes writing this long response at 11:30 at night when I should have been sleeping. I decided to cut and paste, and process some more later.
After the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, some people are sending reminders for you to check on your strong friend. On the flip side there are strong friends telling the world that they are that strong friend and asking to be checked on.
I must admit, I was struggling a little bit after reading her post. Once in a blue moon, the thought “Hey! Yeah you! I’m over here. Have you checked on me lately?” pops into my head. This used to happen more in the past, not as much now. When it does happen though, I pretty quickly decide to swat that thought away and tell myself I can’t and don’t rely on anyone else to check on me. While I think it’s true that we need people who are in our corner to support us during our struggles, I also think we need to be okay when people don’t check on us. Now, I currently do not struggle with a diagnosable mental health disorder, so I am strictly speaking from my mentally healthy point of view and how I personally choose to approach this.
Speaking from experience, when I start to think “Why doesn’t anyone check on me?” It creates an environment in which I begin to build up resentment and disappointment toward certain individuals, which only exacerbates the situation and makes me feel worse. So I remind myself that it is not anyone’s job or obligation to check on me. The same goes for you.
People disappoint. Point. Blank. Period. I don’t believe that to be a negative statement, it’s just a fact. We are humans and we disappoint one another, most times unintentionally. So I try not to expect the people who lean on me as the strong friend to also be my strong friend. That expectation would set me up for disappointment. I’m their strong friend, they aren’t necessarily mine.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect and equal amount of reciprocity in relationships. We all serve a particular role in different people’s lives. I look at it like this - God is using me to pour into that person(s). Their role is not necessarily to pour back into me, it's to provide me with opportunities to cheerfully serve and give, to practice the compassion muscle, and to become a better listener, among many other things. So I don’t rely on someone that doesn’t have the capacity to be my strong friend to be my strong friend and fill my cup up.
It’s MY cup. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. No one else’s name is written on it. It’s mine and mine only. I gotta be the one to get up and walk to the faucet, turn the water on, and let it pour in. If I wait for someone else to check on me, my cup will never get filled. It would be the equivalent of searching for a drop of water in a desert. Sorry not sorry, but I’m not leaving that in someone else’s hands anymore.
And I no longer choose to harbor negative feelings toward those that don’t ask me how I’m doing or check on me as often as I check on them. Especially because I’m sure I fall short sometimes as well. We all have lives, jobs or businesses, kids or pets, problems, bills, piles of undone laundry, leaky faucets, deaths in the family, work functions, networking events, marriage or relationship problems, and the list goes on.
It’s pretty damn hard to keep up with what’s going on in my own life these days. If my husband can’t keep up either, how could I expect a friend whom I don’t communicate with on a daily basis to do so? I don’t equate someone not reaching out to say “how are you?” as they don’t love me or care about me. There are many days when I think about someone, but don’t send a text or pick up the phone. I do however say a quick prayer for them, or ask God to send good vibes their way, or just simply say in my head, “I miss you and am thinking about you.” I imagine that others do that for me as well and that’s enough for me.
If by chance I were to ever struggle with mental health issues in the future and commit suicide, I would never want anyone feeling guilty for not reaching out often enough or feeling like that was the phone call or text that could have saved my life. It's way more complicated than that.
I definitely agree with her that it’s nice to be checked on. It warms my heart when I get those texts or phone calls or when I get to share with someone face to face how my life is going. But there may be several months where one of those texts doesn’t come through. Weeks may go by without a ‘checking on you’ phone call. Friends may be going through a busy or challenging season and are having legit difficulty scheduling lunch or dinner.
Fully knowing that there is the possibility that someone out there thinks I’m not being a good enough friend, I don’t hold it against them. I just do my best and forgive myself when I don't.
While I try not to get in the habit of giving instructions, I’d like to share a few suggestions for the strong friends that feel like they don’t get checked on.
Don’t focus on those that don’t check on you. Practice gratitude toward the ones that do. I’m sure you have at least one person that reaches out to you regardless of the frequency. Call that person up or write her or him a letter to say thank you.
Take a Break.
If being the strong friend is draining, take a break from being the strong friend. Don’t feel like you need to answer every text or pick up every phone call. You’re the strong friend because you allow yourself to be the strong friend.
Challenge people to resolve their own issues. Let said individual(s) participate in the process of solving their own problems instead of hand delivering the answer on a silver platter. They may stumble at first, but over time they'll build their capacity to stand on two feet without you. And if they don't, well that's not in your control and it's not your responsibility.
"No" means "Yes".
Saying no to others is saying yes to yourself. No further explanation needed.
Check on yourself.
Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “How am I doing today?” Then go be weird and have a full on conversation with yourself. Hype yourself up. Be your own cheerleader! Find out what fills you up. Then go do that thing! Do whatever you need to do to stay healthy, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You are responsible for you!
If you do check on yourself and for a second think that you may need professional help, please know you are not weak for asking. Go get the help you need.
I fully expect to receive some backlash from this post. I’m ready and prepared for it.
To all the mental health advocates that have the urge to come at my throat: I dealt with depression as a teenager and during the majority of my college years. I still don't believe it was anyone's job to check on me. I'm also a social worker that is trained to diagnose and treat mental health disorders, although I intentionally choose not to do that type of work. This is how I personally approach this for myself.
For all my strong friends out there, I’d love to hear your honest opinion. Do you agree? Did I miss the mark? Do you have other suggestions for all the strong friends out there?